Zion

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Yet another city of angels

Written by Chaz on 2 October 2011

Lest we ever get a good, full night’s sleep, we rose on Saturday at 5:30. We had decided to take on Zion Canyon’s most challenging day hike, Angels Landing, before leaving. The 2.4-mile trail goes up dozens of switchbacks before climbing up a steep ridge to the summit, an enormous rock promontory in the middle of the canyon. The name, Angels Landing, came from a 1916 visitor who proclaimed that only an angel would ever be able to get to the summit. But the park manager of the time was undeterred, quickly building a path to the top.

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After making coffee, eating a light breakfast and striking camp, we checked out of the campground, moved the car to the visitor center and boarded the crowded first shuttle of the day at 6:45 to ride up into the canyon. We were on the trail by 7:15. The trail was steep right from the beginning, running parallel to the canyon for a bit before beginning to ascend the canyon’s western wall pretty dramatically.

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After 21 short switchbacks through an area known as Walter’s Wiggle, we arrived at Scout Lookout, which the ranger had assured us was a perfectly respectable place to turn around. And while the view from Scout Lookout was nice, it was nothing compared to the view from the top of Angels Landing, which loomed ahead of us. I took a moment to look over the sheer drop at the edge of Scoot Lookout into the canyon below.

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As we began to ascend further, it became obvious that the trail was going to get a lot more treacherous for the final portion.

But it wasn’t immediately obvious just how treacherous it was going to be.

Of course, we were more than prepared after our Half Dome experience, so we soldiered on, making it to the summit by about 9:00. The views were totally unlike any other perspective we had had on Zion Canyon. Because Angels Landing sticks right out into the middle of the canyon, you get breathtaking panoramic views in both directions. For sheer unexpected reward, I think Angels Landing may have been the best hike of our trip.

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We headed back down the trail, which was like nothing compared to the nine-mile descent from Half Dome, and we had returned to Dorothy by about eleven. We drove east on the park road, winding through the hills up to a 1.1-mile tunnel, snacking on asiago cheese, tomato spread and crackers.

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After driving through the tunnel, we stopped for one last taste of Zion, making the short hike out the Canyon Overlook Trail to a view back towards the canyon. Clearly visible is the winding highway up to the tunnel’s west entrance.

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As we drove east out of the park, we kept passing amazing rock formations, like the Checkerboard Mesa.

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Before long, we were out of the park’s splendor and back on the flat, open desert road, heading south to the Grand Canyon. Our short detour to Zion couldn’t have been more worth it.

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Heading inland to Zion

Written by Chaz on 2 October 2011

Ambition became reality when we awoke at 3:30 a.m. to take quick showers and ready ourselves for the long drive east to Zion National Park. Everything was in the car and ready shortly afterward, and by 4:02, Dorothy was pulling away.

Los Angeles had one last chance to confuse us with its freeway system, but we were ready for it. By 5:30, we had maneuvered from the 405 to the 105 to the 605 to the 10 to the 15, making an essential stop for coffee along the highway. We watched the sun rise over the California desert.

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Interstate 15 winds east from Barstow through the Mojave Desert to the Nevada border. And as we approached the Silver State, it became clear that the casinos and outlets started immediately across the border. In fact, the town of Primm, Nev. is right up against the border, positioned as a first temptation for gamblers coming from California or a last hope for those leaving Vegas.

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Shortly afterward, around 8:30, we arrived in Vegas, where we stopped for gas, a bathroom stop and a good look at the casinos. It was my first time in the city, and my initial reaction was that it reminded me so much of Macau — which was ironic, since Emmy’s reaction to Macau was that it reminded her of Vegas.

IMG_5560IMG_5573IMG_5582IMG_5583IMG_5584Wynn casinoLeft: the Wynn casino in Las Vegas. Right: the Wynn casino in Macau.

Northeast of Vegas, I-15 cuts through the rural northwestern corner of Arizona and winds through the Virgin River Gorge, a dramatic rock formation created by the same river that made Zion.

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We pulled off the highway in Washington City, Utah for a last supermarket stop and lunch at In-N-Out, which we had missed in California. From there, it was only a short drive into Zion, where we parked Dorothy at our campsite in Watchman Campground and walked back to the visitor center. To reduce congestion, you can’t drive into Zion Canyon, the heart of the park — you have to park and take one of the frequent shuttles. As a result, there aren’t any parking problems in the canyon, and the views are unspoiled by heavy automobile traffic.

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Zion was given its name by Mormon farmers who discovered it and believed it to be close to paradise. I really liked the idea that the park was preserved because people saw it and said to themselves: wow, this place is close to God.

After checking in at the visitor center about our best course of action, we hopped on a shuttle and rode to the Weeping Rock stop to begin exploring. The beauty of the canyon was readily apparent.

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We hiked from the shuttle stop up a steep trail toward something called Hidden Canyon. As we ascended, the views of the canyon became even more picturesque and panoramic.

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The weather was visibly deteriorating, and when we got to Hidden Canyon (surprise — it was a hidden canyon), we quickly turned back around, not wanting to get stuck on the steep trail once it became wet and slippery. We took a short detour to Weeping Rock, and as it had begun to rain, the weeping was even greater than usual.

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We walked back to the shuttle and rode up to the last stop, the Temple of Sinawava, where we took a soaked stroll up the paved Riverside Walk along the Virgin River. The canyon gets too narrow for the road to continue, and at the end of the path, it gets too narrow for the path to continue. But, we learned, many people rent special boots to wade through the Narrows, as the section of the river is known, starting above the canyon and hiking through the water back down. It sounded really cool, and it definitely made my next-visit list.

We had to wait a few minutes for a shuttle back to the campground, as the heavy rain had apparently caused a mudslide on a section of the road. Sure enough, we passed a park ranger directing traffic around the debris in the road. According to our shuttle driver, the rainstorm was “one for the record books,” and the subsequent mudslide was “unprecedented.” When we got back to our campsite, we took advantage of a momentary lull in the rain to set the tent up at a record pace, and fortunately, the rain mostly held off for the rest of the evening.

Our campsite at Zion was one of the nicest we stayed, with a beautiful view of the canyon. We settled in to enjoy some appetizers by the fire before dinner. Naturally, given our early wakeup, we were getting quite tired.

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As the sun began to set, Emmy whipped up some apple chardonnay chicken sausage with mixed fresh vegetables.

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After a round of s’mores, we were more than ready for bed.